This may seem like a picky rule, but if you actually pay attention to it, you'll solve a lot of potential reader confusion before it even starts: Keep any modifying language as close to the subject as possible.
Allow me to explain.
I recently came across the following horrendous sentence. (Don't ask me where. Suffice it to say that I read everything.)
The lot area for a pre-exsiting seasonal dwelling, legally in existence as of the effective date of these regulations, to be converted to year-round use shall be a minimum of 0.25 acres.
Land use regulations are dull enough for the average reader, but the abysmal sentence structure rendered this passage incomprehensible. I had to read the sentence three times before I understood it. The problem is that the subject (lot area) is at the beginning of the sentence, and the modifying phrase ("shall be a minimum of 0.25 acres") is at the end. The distance of separation simply tires out your brain and you forget what the acreage was supposed to relate to.
Here's my remake of the sentence:
For a pre-existing seasonal dwelling, legally in existence as of the effective date of these regulations, to be converted to year-round use, the lot area shall be a minimum of 0.25 acres.
It's still a tad awkward, because there are so many qualifying statements, but at least it's more readable. To make this passage still better, you can shorten, omit, or compress the main idea of one of the modifying clauses, in this case, legally in existence as of the effective date of these regulations.
I've seen this classic mistake repeated not only in official documents (as in this example) but in everything from fiction novels to college textbooks. Sometimes the problem can be solved by breaking the sentence into two sentences. Sometimes, you can condense the language (as I did in the last examples). And sometimes you just need to rearrange the clauses to keep related ideas close to each other.
For a legally-existing, pre-existing seasonal dwelling to be converted to year-round use, the lot area shall be a minimum of 0.25 acres.
To convert a legally-existing, pre-existing seasonal dwelling to year-round use, the lot area shall be a minimum of 0.25 acres.
If you like something I wrote here, you are free to share/quote it with credit and a link back to the original page on my website.
I write YA/adult fantasy & sci-fi that explores fantastic new worlds, with stories that burn through the darkest realities with hope and redemption.
Learn more here!